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Irish Examiner
23 Nollaig 2015

Daragh Ó Conchúir

People are beginning to sit up and take notice of Na Gaeil Óga. They might have been dismissed initially as a curiosity with no future when established in 2012 but with success on the pitch and the proper structures continuining to be put in place, it seems that the Dublin GAA club established to promote the Irish, is here to stay.

While there are plenty of Irish-speaking clubs in the country, they revolve around Gaeltacht areas and have a geographical base.

That wasn't the case with Na Gaeil Óga, when a group of students that encountered each other regularly at a variety of Irish langauge activities or indeed third level courses, decided they wanted to do something else to promote the native tongue.

The common ground was a love of Gaelic games and so, Na Gaeil Óga was born.

They started with a football team, training and playing at Phoenix Park or around the old Magazine Fort. Now, there are two football teams as well as one for hurling, ladies football, and as of this year, camogie.

"There's no surprise that we have a huge amound of people from different Gaeltachtaí" says PRO, Colman Hanley. "We have a strong core of people from Donegal and Kerry, then a few from Cork, Waterford and Connmara... you find that people who are just finished college and are starting to work in Dublin are looking for somewhere to go. You'll find if you get one person from a Gaeltacht, that htey will get a few more to come in as they arrive in the city.

"Now we're trying to reconnect with the third level link that we did have initially. I don't think we;kk have a problem with it because people at third level who are interested in irish will be looking to join our club."

More critical to cementing the future of the club however, is ensuring a steady flow of players with natural affinity for the club, rather than just hoping to pick up like-minded recruits landing in the city from the Gaeltachts for study or work.

To that end, setting up an underage section and making it work is paramount.

Academy training has been taking place for children from as young as five every Saturday morning at Gaelscoil Naomh Phádraig in Lucan and that will bear fruit in the new season. The potential for growth has become very evident, with the initial numbers of around 30 children quickly multiplying to three times that number.

"Come January, we will have our fist Na Gaeil Óga underage teams which will be massive for us" says Hanley. "What started out as a social thing with lads being able to play football together through Irish, now has a real club and community aspect to it.

"That's what we want to get going. If we can get the underage structure going and keep ticking along... we want those guys and girls playing U8 from next January on to be our seniors in 10 years and beyond." One of the biggest challenges from the start was the lack of an actually footprint. A place to call home. At the heart of the GAA is representing your parish or village. Na Gaeil Óga has a community and sense of identity but not a locality.

There is something they have chosen to address and having established good relationships with the two Lucan Gaelscoils - Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada being the other - are moving towards basing themselves permanently at St Catherine's Park,

"Lucan does have the Sarsfield but we feel that with the gaelscoileanna we can establish ourselves there as a local club in the long term." They have been getting results in every way, in terms of numbers and silverware. OVerall membership is approaching 200 now and they are on the crest of a wave.

This is the first season that silverware hasn't been won, having moved up in football from Division 11 to Division 7. A period of consolidation is bound to follow, as they encounter reserve teams from huge clubs such as Ballymun Kickhams, St Vincent's and neighbours Lucan Sarsfields. They key is not to regress.

At the centre of it all though, is fostering the Irish language. Speaking it among themselves, on the pitch and socially, and demystifying it for new people who can attempt to pick up the cúpla focal in the familiar surroundings of the GAA pitch.

"One of the most useful ways in driving the promotion and usage of language is through sport. There are many ways of doing that, be it Hector jumping around the place on TV, stuff written or on radio.

"But we found this is hugely effective because everything maps around the club, whether we're having fundraisers like our table quiz, or our male version of the Lovely Girls Competition or you have 10 people on the sideline cheering on the team. That's how we can use the language.

"But it's especially with the kids on Saturday mornings. It's great that we can have a major impact on these youngsters, give them another opportunity to use the Irish. And it gets the parents involved as well even if they don't have Irish."

Of course, there is a significant advantage in speaking Gaeilge on the pitch too in an era where even the slightest edge counts. It is remarkable how many people wouldn't know what you mean if you shout at your goalkeeper to kick the ball out ar dheis or ar chlé.

The irony of it all is that Na Gaeilge Óga want you to learn.

 

 

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